The Weather Window

A tumultuous grey green sea crashes onto the sand rolling with white foaming crests that create bubbles that are blown up the beach. The sky overhead is pale grey. Along the beach a hidden forest is revealed by the low tide. Draped in brown and green seaweed are the preserved remains of ancient trees. Thousands of years ago in the Bronze Age, a forest stretched miles offshore into Cardigan Bay. With the passage time of time the area become more waterlogged, the trees died back and eventually the shoreline retreated and sea replaced land. In the anaerobic acidic conditions of the peat the tree stumps were preserved. Now what remains of the forest on Borth beach is sunken and hidden out of sight, covered by sand and sea, only to be revealed at the lowest of tides. The stumps are dark, silky brown in colour and still show the growth rings of their previous life. They are adorned with flowing crowns of green and rich brown seaweed. The sea beyond is a rolling mass of waves and white water.

The sunken forest at Borth beach

The following morning and the beach is a different place. The wind has dropped, the sun shines and the water is a silky, oily blue. The waves gently lap the shore and the sunken forest is hidden once more. The sea is now an oasis of calm, perfect conditions for sea watching.

Borth beach the following morning

Further down the Cambrian coast and we arrive at the small coastal town of New Quay. A popular seaside resort with large sandy beaches and a sheltered harbour. It is also the hub of the local bottlenose dolphin population. There are around 300 dolphins resident in Cardigan Bay and while they can be seen anywhere along the coast, New Quay is one of the best places to catch up with them from sea and shore.

The town and harbour looks resplendent in the sun. The beach gleams gold and the pale blue water reaches out to a hazy horizon where the bluish grey land of the Llyn Peninsula can be seen.

Sitting on the cool grey stone of the harbour wall, the shouts of happy children drifts up from the beach, boats putter to and from the harbour, it is an idyllic summers day even with the shadow of the pandemic. For me at this point there is one thing missing. Those dolphins. Our traditional chips eaten we are just thinking of heading for a walk when dark fins break the calm water offshore.

For the next couple of hours 4 or 5 dolphins forage around the bay. A few are off to the right, occasionally moving more ahead of us and at least two are off to the left. They are mostly distant but with the very calm conditions it is easy to pick them out. Occasionally one leaps out of the water, or surfaces closer the harbour breaking through the ripples of the water created by the flow of boats.

After a while with two little ones getting fidgety we move, heading for the headland at the edge of the bay. Here a female and her new calf are foraging and closely approaching the cliff. The female is intensely searching for food, seemingly oblivious to anything around her. She surfaces once or twice before staying under for a few minutes and reappearing in seemingly random places. It makes it difficult to predict where she will surface next. Occasionally at fish leaps out of the water making a desperate escape, revealing the females location. The calf mostly surfaces close to mum but occasionally, boldly, pops up exuberantly on its own.

Mother and calf bottlenose dolphin

It is another wonderful encounter with these incredible animals and is something I never grow tired of. Little ones however do get tired and when the mother and calf head off down the coast, it is time for us to head back up the hill and for home. Still I frequently stop on the way back, scanning with binoculars, picking out the fins of the dolphins as they continue to feed further out in the bay. Just one more glimpse for the road…

The next day and Storm Francis slams into the Welsh coastline bringing unseasonable strong winds and rain. The sea off the beach at Borth and all along the Cambrian coast is once again tumultuous, raging with white water. Storm clouds obscure the coastline and rain lashes down on anyone who dares venture outside. The weather window has closed.

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